I’m currently reading a rather lovely book called slide:ology by Nancy Duarte. I highly recommend it. Her eponymous agency in the US does one thing and one thing only: presentations.
I must admit I’m rather envious. Forgive the pretentiousness, but I can’t think of many purer expressions of the creative process: taking a series of messages, turning them into a compelling story and then expressing them visually through a single medium.
All the rewarding complexity with none of the exhausting complications.
It’s a challenge we get from our own clients from time to time – and I believe it’s one of the most effective and valuable services we offer.
(Incidentally, I do hope this doesn’t come across as vulgar sales patter. I rarely sully B.L.O.G. with such things, and this isn’t one of those occasions).
A staggering amount of business is conducted through the medium of PowerPoint. But, the perverse thing is, everyone knows these presentations are almost invariably terrible. Everyone.
Even the evil geniuses that made it – who were quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “the best way to paralyze an opposition army is to ship it PowerPoint”. The Gerald Ratner school of product promotion lives on.
Why are they so bad? Let’s look at the theory.
In Jim Endicott’s The Presentation Skills Survival Guide he suggests there are three key components: the delivery, the message and the visual story. PowerPoint is meant to empower even the most design averse to be able to create the third bit.
Putting delivery to one side, you basically need a good tale to tell supported by visuals that complement the point you’re making.
But few people understand how to make the leap from verbal to visual communication. We all spend our lives communicating through words, after all. Pictures, less so.
The result is repetition and dissonance. By ‘repetition’ I mean a long series of bullet points that essentially replicate what they speaker is saying. (Or, worse, which the speaker then just reads out.) By ‘dissonance’ I mean a clash between the visual and verbal – the audience isn’t sure whether to read or to listen.
Actually, the practical result is a room full of people thinking, “With all these bullets flying around, I just wish someone had the foresight to bring a gun”. Or feeling vaguely seasick from the dizzying array of fades, wipes and spins the presenter has used to, you know, jazz it all up a bit.
1. What’s the story?
A brain dump of disconnected ideas, themes and information leaves people cold and confused. First establish the simple story you want to tell, then chop away anything that doesn’t help tell that story.
2. Show, don’t tell
You want people listening, not reading. Words are the enemy of a good presentation slide. Better to use a visual to bring the key point you’re making to life.
3. It’s not a teleprompt
If your delivery just involves reading your slides aloud, you are not presenting – you are narrating. Poorly.
4. Make more time
If you’ve got a presentation in the morning and you start it the previous afternoon, it will be rubbish. Nancy Duarte describes an indicative timeline totalling 36-90 hours per presentation. Yeah, well, you’re not Al Gore. But suffice to say that a good presentation is not something you can knock out in an hour.